Believe it or not, and after his demotion to Triple-A Toledo late Wednesday it might be a bit hard to believe, but I still think young Detroit Tigers fireballer Bruce Rondon can lead the Tigers in saves. Rondon throws hard but tends to not know where it's headed. He's certainly not alone there, but the Tigers are primed for another World Series run and manager Jim Leyland is aware that a committee approach rarely works. He wants someone to handle the role, not a bunch of someones, and Rondon remains very much in the team's future, even if it initially will be as a Mud Hen.
For fantasy purposes, the Tigers remain the prime bullpen situation to watch as we head into the new season. It's possible right-handers Al Alburquerque and Octavio Dotel and lefties Phil Coke and Darin Downs (don't forget him) will be mixed and matched for saves in early April, but Rondon, who struggled this week on the second part of the back-to-back-days test, will be in the majors soon. The stuff and velocity is there. It also wouldn't surprise me if free agent Jose Valverde, reportedly in great shape, throwing hard and perhaps most importantly represented by ace agent Scott Boras, who usually gets his way, is brought back this week and closing by Tuesday.
It's all about the timing with this and a few other bullpens, so as we discuss closers for the final time in spring training and anxiously await games that count in the standings, here are updated thoughts and predictions for that fickle category we all seem to go gaga over -- the saves -- even if they consistently break our heart.
Detroit Tigers: In AL-only and deep mixed formats Rondon should not be dropped. The Tigers clearly want him in the closer role, even if it takes until May for it to come to full fruition. It's not going to be a popular opinion, but I see Rondon getting at least 20 saves, and if he can't handle it, a trade for a Rafael Betancourt/Chris Perez type will be made. There's no harm in adding Alburquerque, who I like best of the current Detroit major league relievers, because we've seen in the past someone ordinary like an Antonio Alfonseca or Kevin Gregg get a surprising shot and keep the job, but I'm not giving up on Rondon. Remember, Mike Trout made his 2012 season debut on April 28. It's a long season.
Los Angeles Angels: Now I'm getting worried about Ryan Madson, because his elbow isn't right and he's going to need it to be right. As with Rondon, it might take until May for Madson to seize the role, but the difference is the Angels have a guy they trust who really thrived in 2012 in Ernesto Frieri. At this point I'd draft Frieri over Madson, though that isn't close to happening in ESPN average live drafts, and not worry about lefties like Scott Downs or Sean Burnett.
Chicago Cubs: Spring stats mean little, but Carlos Marmol didn't retire any of the Cincinnati Reds he faced in Tuesday's game, while Japanese import Kyuji Fujikawa has made a solid impression. The reason Marmol will be the closer in April is about trade bait. The Cubs want/have to deal him, but need Marmol to thrive in the ninth inning to do so. His eight walks versus four strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings this spring isn't helping. Fujikawa is going earlier in ESPN ADP and nobody ever seems to want the erratic Marmol, but I think he still leads the Cubs in saves and approaches 30. It's going to be hard to trade the guy!
Houston Astros: Well, someone has to save the games this team does win, and while Jose Veras is the front-runner, I remain optimistic that Rule 5 pick Josh Fields, now 27 and figuring things out, has a future in the role. The Astros should go with Veras early; he's experienced and has thrown well this spring. Fields is my sleeper to take the job and lead the team in saves. Consider him in AL-only formats.
Miami Marlins: Speaking of sleepers, I don't see why a bad team -- and the Marlins are not good -- wouldn't try to find its future closer at some point this year. It's clearly A.J. Ramos. Nothing against reasonable ground baller Steve Cishek, but like Rondon, Ramos closed all through the minors, piled on the whiffs but has more command. And he's having a nice spring. Cishek and handcuff Jon Rauch are obvious trade bait, especially for this organization.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Nothing has changed for me this spring. Brandon League still saves 30 games, and Kenley Jansen does not. It doesn't matter who is actually the better pitcher, folks. It matters what manager Don Mattingly wants to do. And he wants League closing.
Cincinnati Reds: If you drafted Jonathan Broxton, my condolences, but I was writing as early as December that Aroldis Chapman would close again because Dusty Baker generally gets his way. This development is not shocking. Still, in NL-only formats, Broxton is the handcuff, and I don't presume, as with other top-5 closers Craig Kimbrel, Jonathan Papelbon and Fernando Rodney, that Chapman will be injury free.
Toronto Blue Jays: Casey Janssen could very well start the year on the DL, but it's also clear the team wants him closing over Sergio Santos. At this point, consider Santos much like Vinnie Pestano in Cleveland or Fujikawa in Chicago, waiting for a chance but with no guarantees.
St. Louis Cardinals: Jason Motte went for a ridiculously low price in our office auction Wednesday night, as everyone seemed concerned his slightly torn -- does the slightly matter? -- flexor tendon will eventually result in Tommy John surgery. But this is not the same tendon that results in that type of surgery. Rest should heal this soon. Motte is a bargain at this point, and while he should start April on the disabled list, this really doesn't appear to be a long-term issue. Add Mitchell Boggs for the first few weeks and enjoy some saves, but Motte is going to save 30 games this year. Don't let him drop too far in drafts, or go for less money than Cishek types who really aren't safer.